Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Sick Kittie

Not as in "ewww,you sick kittie," but as in, "I have a very sick kittie."

Jon and I have five cats. It's a lot of cats. When we sleep at night, we are covered in them.

Three of the cats are "grannies," the older set of cats we acquired early in our relationship. The fourteen year old Fisher, the white one, I canvassed from a friendly, crunchy-granola 40 something Volvo driver in a suburb of San Francisco when I was going door to door for abortion rights.

The second oldest is Hailie. She's the one lying furthest from the camera--the brown tabbie. Hailie is 13, and she was originally intended for my mom as a mother's day gift. But, when we brought Hailie home from the animal shelter in Minneapolis, an awkward, shy, wide-eyed cat, with huge paws, we instantly fell in love and kept her.

Shadow is the youngest of the Grannies, also 13. She's the one nestled up next to the white cat. She was collected from San Francisco when Jon and I made a return visit after moving to Minneapolis. My ex-flatmate, Heather, had rescued a pregnant stray, who had four fluffy kittens, two black and two silver tabbies. She didn't have homes for them all, so we volunteered to take one back with us to Minneapolis.

Then there are the "kittens." They're not kittens anymore. They're now one and a half years old. My friend Kate rescued them from a golf course in Philadelphia where they'd been abandoned. One is a boy, the only boy cat of the bunch. Since his neutering, he has had a squeeky little voice, so we call him "Little Boy." His sister, Tillie, short for Attilla, is a tank--stalking, heavy, and square. They're the two who look alike in the foreground of the bed.

My sick cat is Shadow.

I am presently sitting here at my computer waiting for a phone call from the emergency animal hospital veterinarian. I don't know what else to do with myself, so I'll reminisce about "squirt," "the peester," or "Slim Shady."

When we moved from Philadelphia to Albany we noticed that Shadow had become lethargic and had developed a nasty cough. So, after getting settled, we found a vet and took her in. After some tests she was diagnosed with heartworm. Cats generally don't get heartworm, and our routine vet had never seen an instance of it. Unlike dogs, it's much more difficult to treat heartworm in cats because of their smaller vascular systems. They risk dying of clots and pulmonary embolisms. Basically, when the heartworm dies, it breaks into pieces; because it's so large relative to cat's veins, they cause clots in the lungs.

The veterinarian just called. Heck of a nice guy and genuinely interested in trying to figure out why Shadow seems so sick.

See, Jon and I have been working with the assumption that Shadow is a terminally ill cat--slowly; our regular vet estimated Shadow would live another two years. She's now 6 months passed her expected departure date, if you will. So, when she started to hang out away from us last week and eat less, we suspected she might be getting closer to her death. We'd agreed that we'd prefer she die here at home rather than go through the trauma of the cat carrier, the drive, and the vet's office. But, yesterday she was in terrible distress; she couldn't breath. It's a terrible scene to witness another living creature struggling--or, even worse, failing to get--oxygen.

We brought her to the emergency clinic.

The veterinarian on duty last night took X-rays of her chest and ran blood tests, and declared that her condition was not related to heart worm. Her heart seemed quite strong, but her lungs were abnormally enlarged, and she had patches of pneumonia. He suggested she had asthma coupled with pneumonia. She stayed overnight in an oxygen tent, infused with antibiotics, and broncho-dialaters.

When we picked her up this morning, she was a little better although not good enough to go home. They recommended we take her back to our regular vet. So, we did. Along the way, Jon and I puzzled over this new prognosis. Perhaps, the original diagnosis was incorrect and she didn't have heart worm at all. This made me feel very angry. I'd been operating on the assumption that she was a terminal cat because of heartworm, but what if she actually was asthmatic, and we failed to treat *those* symptoms. We could have prevented this crisis if we had known.

We delivered Shadow to our regular vet clinic early this morning, where a vet who recently joined the practice saw her. He put her back into the oxygen tent, and hummmed and puzzled over the conflicting information we now had: asthma/pneumonia or heartworm. Our new vet said that sometimes cats fight off the heart worm with their "amazing" immune systems, and said he'd continue the treatment prescribed by the emergency clinic. We collectively hoped that she would be well enough to come off the oxygen by the time the practice closed.

But, when we checked in this afternoon, and then when we went to pick her up at 6:00 this evening, the news was the same: her condition hadn't improved enough to let her come home. As we waited for Shadow to be given back to us so that we could drive back to the emergency overnight clinic, the veterinarian came in a little wide eyed and without Shadow. He explained that she had had a "little" seizure as they were taking her out of the oxygen tent, and he wasn't sure we could take her to the emergency clinic. The wrinkle for him was that his practice closed at 6:30, so if she stayed, she'd be unsupervised all night. He told us to wait, and he'd see how she was doing. He returned 5 minutes later with her in the carrier, told us that he had given her Valium to calm her down, and that we should hurry (without getting a speeding ticket) over to the emergency clinic (a 20 minute drive away).

So, I drove quickly to the emergency clinic, where she is now. The veterinarian on tonight, who just called, was quite puzzled by her X-Rays and by her condition. If she had patchy pneumonia, she should be doing much better by now than she is. He told me that he'd sought the advice of an animal cardiologist. Together, they came to the conclusion that the original diagnosis of heart worm was correct. Their guess is that one of the worms died, and as it broke apart it caused a series of embolisms in her lungs.

He is not optimistic about her condition, but because there has been some improvement, we've decided to wait the night and see what tomorrow brings. There's a good chance she'll go into arrest. But, there's a small chance she'll see the dawn. So, we wait.

I must confess to feeling that I don't wish to have the new vet at our normal clinic. The original vet we saw when Shadow was diagnosed is great, but I don't care for the new guy. First, his attitude seems to be that he can't be bothered to do more than is necessary. He didn't bother in the least to really understand her condition and investigate the conflicting diagnoses we brought to him this morning. Second, both in our telephone calls yesterday, and our interactions today, he's not committed to being at the clinic any longer than his shift. Now, I don't expect veterinarians to give their all in the same way people doctors, do. But, I was hoping for a little more effort from him.

Ugh. And poor Shadow. I feel so bad for her. She was always the most high strung of our cats. Her father was likely ferile, and she took on shy, nervous, territorial traits from him. She hated any sort of change. She really hated it when new people stayed at the house. She disliked my brother's presence so much she peed on his shoes.

She was also incredibly cute, and she could be very cudely. She and Fisher were absolutely best pals. I'm holding both of them in the other picture. She made the funniest little chatter noises whenever she saw birds. She was delightfully playful.

Jon and I have been mourning tonight, reminiscing about her presence in our lives. Hers will be the first death which which we've dealt (if you exclude humans, that is). Although she has not yet passed, I am not optimistic for her survival.

When our grannies were young and we had grown our little tribe in Minneapolis to 5 (two adults and three cats), I had this fantastic surreal-ization: there are animals in our house! Animals that should be wild but have somehow through training and breeding been tamed into this co-existence with us humans. What an extraordinary thing. I felt and saw them not as cuddly creatures for me and Jon but for what they are--animals. That sensation quickly evaporated, and I again saw them as our pets, our beasts.

And the reality is that those animals share more of my temporal life than any of my friends or other relatives (with the exception of Jon). Shadow has been with me for as long as I've been married, more than one third of my life on this earth. She was a good member of our little tribe, and a constant presence in my daily life, on my lap as I read for my grad classes, on my keyboard as I was trying to write term papers, curled up on my chest as I slept.

The reality of her death, takes the energy out of me.

[Addendum: We had Shadow put to sleep tonight. Around midnight, we talked with the vet again. He expressed concern about her condition, that she was quite uncomfortable and that there wasn't any improvement. After a painful discussion, we decided it was time. We drove back to the clinic, and Jon held Shadow in her arms as she was given the overdose of anesthesia. Very sad.]


Rod Carveth said...

Because my father used Seeing Eye Dogs, there was always a dog around when I grew up (and I also had a German Shepherd as a pet). I currently have a 3-year-old black lab.

Prior to Jenna (my lab), however, I had 5 cats for over a decade (though no more than 3 at any one time). All eventually passed on -- 2 by age, 2 by accident, 1 by disease. It is amazing how close we get to pets. Each time one met his or her demise, it was like losing a member of the family.

My condolences for your loss.

Anna said...

I confess to being pretty traumatized by the deaths of various pets as I was growing up which is one reason I don't have pets of my own at this point.

It's hard to lose such a good friend.

Shadow will be missed.

Jenny S-G said...

Thanks Rod and Anna for your kind comments.

Anna, Fisher is doing okay. She's wandered around the house a few times yowling her head off, but she's now got Tillie to snuggle with.